Political crisis in Russia : the regional dimension / Irina Busygina. - Bonn, 1993 (Studie der Abteilung Außenpolitikforschung im Forschungsinstitut der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung ; 58). - ISBN 3-86077-112-4


6. The „Hot Fall" of 1993

September: Resistance

In summer, President Yeltsin repeatedly promised that September would be a „hot month" in Russia’s politics. Contrary to what many had expected, reality showed that this was not an empty promise. On the evening of 21 September, the President appeared on television to announce that Russia’s parliament was disbanded, calling for elections of a new parliament on 11-12 December 1993.

Already from the early morning of 22 September, the reaction of Russia’s regions toward this presidential decree N1400 began to take shape. According to the first information of the presidential administration, 48 governors (heads of regional administrations) immediately supported the President without any reserve. On the other hand, and not surprisingly, the information given by the „White House" (Parliament) was no less impressive - 57 regional Soviets supported the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation. [ Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 25, 1993, p. 3.] The first results announced by each side seemed to be more propaganda than „dry" statistics. One could only draw one logical conclusion - that Yeltsin was supported by the administrators of those regions where the legislative and executive bodies had different opinions with regard to events in Moscow. The political weight of those regions with „serious" leaders (these are primarily republics: Tatarstan, Yakutia-Sakha, Karelia, Komi, Kalmykia) allowed them to preserve neutrality or at least to avoid revealing their position prematurely.

All the regions were at least united on one point: they all were bored to death by the conflict between the President and the parliament and thought the two federal bodies should be elected simultaneously and as soon as possible. [ The governor of the Far East region (Primorje) stressed even the possibility of separating his region from Russia. Later the regional representatives in both the Urals and the Far East regions met to discuss breaking away from the Federation. (See Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 23, 1993, p. 3; International Herald Tribune, October 1, 1993, p. 2)] One factor probably dampened the regional reaction slightly: The events in Moscow coincided with the harvest campaign, so the regional leaders were concerned more with keeping order in their territories than with coping with the challenges coming from Moscow.

Nevertheless, on 24 September, the subjects of the Federation gathered in St. Petersburg and deliberated on a document in which they demanded to put the political development in Russia under their control. [ Russian sources published different data on the number of particpants in the St. Petersburg conference: 39 regions were represented from which 27 signed the final document ( Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 28, 1993, p. 1.); or 41 regions were represented and the document was signed unanimously ( Izvestia, September 28, 1993, p. 2).] The St. Petersburg conference asked President Yeltsin to suspend all acts issued from 21 Septmber, 8 o’clock p.m., and to call upon the meeting of the Council of the Federation until 1 October. The conference recommended that the parliament should adopt a decision about simultaneous and pre-term elections for both the parliament and the President. Then the parliament was to announce its self-dissolution. The conference stressed that it admits realities, that the real power had passed to President Yeltsin and to the federal executive body.

The final document of the conference also stated that the Federation Council would remain a consultative body if the President and the parliament agreed on the proposed plan. If not, the subjects of the Federation were ready to issue a supplement to the Federation Treaty establishing a fundamentally new, non- consultative, commanding body.

In proposing their plan, the subjects of the Federation intended to legitimize the existing situation and to stabilize its future development. But the conference was not authoritative enough; its final document was not signed by the most powerful republics - Karelia, Yakutia-Sakha, Tatarstan, Udmurtia - which preferred to wait and be „over the skirmish".

The following days were marked by constantly increasing tensions, expressed in the blockade of the White House and extremist outrages in the center of Moscow, coming in fact close to civil war. That is why the next meeting of the subjects of the Federation was also marked by increased regional resistance to the President.

Meeting in Moscow on 30 September at the Russian Constitutional Court, the representatives of 62 subjects of the Federation demanded that the siege of the parliament building be lifted by midnight, 30 September. Otherwise, the regions (primarily Siberian) would vote to withhold tax revenues from the capital and threaten to leave Moscow without oil and gas supplies. In addition, the representatives from 45 regions signed an agreement to establish the Council of the Subjects of the Federation, whose status was practically equal to the upper chamber of the parliament. An exceptionally active role at this meeting was played by the co-chairman of the new body, K. Ilyumzhimov, the President of Kalmykia. [ The activity of K. Ilyumzhimov is worth mentioning. In public opinion he had a stable image as a supporter of Yeltsin and as the first head of the executive power who had managed to abolish Soviets in Kalmykia. In spite of this he took an openly anti-Yeltsin position, making a speech to the deputies of the parliament and supporting A Rutskoj. Later he continued to affirm that "strict" military measures were planned from the very beginning and the mechanism of their use was carefully elaborated beforehand. ( Izvestia, October 5, 1993, p. 5; October 16, 1993, p. 5.)]

In an effort to quell the revolt, the most authoritative politicians from the „Yeltsin team" travelled to different destinations throughout the country. The Prime Minister V. Chernomyrdin flew to the city of Samara to meet with regional leaders. Y. Gaydar, Deputy Prime Minister, flew to Khabarovsk in the Far East. And S. Shakhray was due in Novosibirsk in Western Siberia for a meeting of the Siberian Council, a regional group. [ International Herald Tribune, October 1, 1993, p. 2.] Such efforts were logical, for the real threat of economic blockade naturally proceeded from rich Siberian regions. It is interesting to note, however, that these trips were the only signs of anxiety in Moscow about regional resistance. Boris Yeltsin himself conducted the consistent policy of ignoring meetings and declarations in the regions.

And, in fact, the regions proved incapable of uniting into a strong force to resist Yeltsin and his plan for a strict (to put it mildly) reform from the Center. The Russian regions were deeply separated by their mutual claims. At the same time, the fear of new elections and negativism towards the Center per se could not form the platform for joint actions. That is why this battle was lost not only by the parliament but also by the regions - in the most offensive kind of ignorance.

October-November: Shaping the Federation from Above

After the bloody night of 4-5 October the political power was concentrated in the hands of President Boris Yeltsin. With regard to the regional aspect of the political situation, he began by dismissing three regional governors (in Bryansk, Amur and Novosibirsk oblast) who had openly resisted him. On 7 October, he issued a decree, according to which the governors of Russia’s regions were to be assigned and dismissed solely by the President and not determined by popular election in the regions. [ Izvestia, 8 October, 1993, p. 2.] Yeltsin also appointed his own representative in the Mordova republic, where there was no president at all.

The President cancelled a scheduled meeting of the Federation Council. His tactics were perfectly clear. Prior to the disbanding of the parliament this body could have been used by the President as a powerful tool to pressure the parliament. These tactics were no longer necessary. To create a political body with unclear tasks and competences was not in the President’s interest. For him, it became much more convenient to deal with the regions through the traditional structures - i.e. the Council of the Heads of the Republics (for the national republics) and regular meetings (for oblast and kray). The regional leaders had not acted soon enough to establish officially the federation council. [ Some of the regional leaders continued to believe that Yeltsin would return to the idea of the Federation Council. "Yeltsin, whether he likes it or not, still needs the Federation Council if he wants to make Russia a real federated state," said Vice-President of Tatarstan, V. Likhachev ( The Moscow Times, October 26, 1993, p. 4.).]

The October battle in Moscow changed the balance of power between Moscow and the regions. „Local elites have not yet understood they can no longer influence federal power bodies, including the President, as effectively as before," said N. Medvedev, the head of the President’s department for relations with the regions. [ Economist, October 9, 1993, p. 28.]

The President and his team did their best to consolidate and strengthen the Center, yet it is worth mentioning that the „games" with the regional elites were finished just when they should have been started - on the eve of the elections for a new legislative branch.

The „Choice of Russia", a grouping around the President and including many of Russia’s most eminent statesmen, was considered to be the most powerful group in Russia’s political scene. But there was the danger that the „Choice of Russia" could turn into a party of exclusive Moscow power, based on a strong Center and anti-regional.

Against this background, another party headed by Deputy Prime Minister S. Shakhray could develop into a certain antidote to centralism. This party represents a new phenomenon in Russia’s political life - the „Party of Russia’s Unity and Consent", which stands for the interests of the regions and proclaims the idea of federalism. The pragmatic, concrete approaches of its leaders, above all to the economic problems Russia currently faces, makes the party’s program attractive. „Shakhray’s" party, being in the center of Russia’s political spectrum, can partially fill the political vacuum which has always existed between the radical left and right wings. [ The constitutent assembly of the "party of regions" took place in Nishznij Novgorod in October 1993. 161 delegates from 53 regions took part in this meeting. Besides S. Shakhray, the party includes, among others, Deputy Prime Minister A. Schokhin, the President's adviser S. Stankevitch, and the Prime Minister of Buryatia V. Saganov. The party stands for "traditional" values, embodied in the slogan "Family, Property, Motherland". The economic policy of the "party of the regions" intends a tax reform in favor of the regions and address-oriented regional and social policy. The main drawback which will probably hinder the party from getting more seats in the State Duma is the lack of its mass media. In addition, there is a certain danger in the party's strong "nationalistic" bias. One of its leaders, R. Abdulatipov, is the former chairman of the Chamber of Nationalities in the Supreme Soviet of the RF. He repeatedly stresses the uniqueness of Russia and the necessity of its Eastern orientation. The program of the party is not free of contradictions. For example, it is not yet clear how the supporters of the party will combine traditional Russian values, one of which has always been centralism, with federal ideas. See Izvestia, October 19, 1993, p. 2; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 19, 1993, p. 1-3 and October 23, 1993, p. 1; Izvestia, November 17, 1993, p. 4.] During the pre-election campaign the „Party of Russia’s Unity and Consent" received 222 thousand signatures, more than the group „Choice of Russia", taking second place after the Agrarian Party. [ Segodnya, November 9, 1993, p. 3.]

In his decree of 9 September Boris Yeltsin called for the purging of Russia’s regional councils (or Soviets). He called upon the old ones to dissolve themselves peacefully and prepare for new elections, which were announced to take place in the period between December 1993 and March 1994. It was obvious that the massive „desovietization" campaign would not be painless. In general, events developed according to three main variants:

1. Peaceful self-dissolving of the Soviets (for example, Yakutia-Sakha, Tula and Kemerovo oblast);

2. The dissolving of the Soviets by order of the governors (Omsk, Leningrad, Vologda oblast);

3. Resistance of the Soviets to the President’s decree (by 15 October, 23 Soviets still continued to consider the decree N1400 to be anti-constitutional and refused to dissolve). [ The trouble spots for Moscow were Novosibirsk, Bryansk and Amur oblast, where the President dismissed old governors and appointed new people. Nevertheless, these new people could not gain real authority because they were supported neither by the population nor by the local elites or "force" structures ( Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 15, 1993, p. 3.).]

It is important to stress that Boris Yeltsin did not order elections in Russia’s national republics, but „recommended" to these republics to reorganize their elected bodies. The republics’ reaction to his appeal was in most cases negative (except for Yakutia-Sakha).

Yeltsin’s „decree" gave the future regional parliaments the right to pass laws, which the old Soviets did not have. But all their legislative acts must be signed by the head of administration, who is appointed by Moscow. The new parliaments, to be elected only for a period of two years and to have no more than 50 deputies, would not be able to contradict federal laws, presidential decrees or government orders.

At the beginning of November, another decree followed, aiming to use the „energy of fear" in the regions caused by the events of October. The decree gives the federal government the right to use the strictest measures in case the regions refuse to transfer a certain amount of taxes to the federal government. Simultaneously, the Central Bank should „in indisputable order" take from the current accounts of the regional budgets the money due to the republican budget of the Russian Federation. [ Already in the beginning of Fall the problem of non-payment of taxes had become extremely acute. More than 30 regions unrightfully reduced their "tribute" to Moscow. The passive reaction of the Ministry of Finance created the impression in the regions that these activities were legitimate. The most "active" and firm non-payers are the Siberian regions and Tatarstan, Baschkortostan and Yakutia-Sakha republics (See Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 1, 1993, p. 3; Izvestia, September 3, 1993, p. 1-2; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 2, 1993, p. 3.; Izvestia, Pctober 10, 1993, p. 3.).]

With his decree of 9 November Boris Yeltsin abolished the Ural republic and disbanded the Soviet of Sverdlovsk oblast. The representative of the President in this region declared that the process of equalization of the subjects of the Federation in rights could only develop by initiative from the Center, from above. [ Segodnya, November 14, 1993, p. 2.]

On 12 December, not only the lower house of parliament (or Duma) was to be elected but also the upper house (Federation Assembly). [ The name Federation Assembly is chosen to distinguish this upper chamber of the parliament from the Federation Council, the body formed by regional leaders. In Russian the Federation Assembly and Federation Council have the same name.] It will be elected for a period of four years and consist of two representatives from each of Russia’s 87 regions and two federal cities. A candidate need only be a Russian citizen and at least 21 years old. This represents a significant change in the original plans of the President, not only because all regions will enjoy equal rights, despite the claims of national republics - this idea had already been discussed during the meetings of the Constitutional Assembly in the summer - but because in the original draft the regional representation consisted of the chairman of the regional Soviet and the governor. Now these representatives must be elected in the regions, which makes the possibilities for future development more reasonable.

Preliminary results of promotion to the Federal Assembly [ On 12 November the deputies for the Federal Assembly were not promoted in Moscow, Chita oblast and Aga-Buryat national okrug. Chechnya, the 89th subject of the Federation, refused to organize elections ( Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 12, 1993, p. 1.).] allow two conclusions:

1. Not a single politician at the federal level has been registered, all candidates are representatives of the regional elites;

2. There is a lack of „alternative" candidates in the regions. The „set" of candidates remains traditional: governors (heads of administrations), the chairmen of the former regional Soviets, mayors, directors. It seems that in the provinces there are no other public figures popular enough to be registered as candidates for the Federal Assembly.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-bibliothek | 9.1. 1998

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